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Secretary of State Calls for Immediate, Unconditional Cessation of Hostilities in Middle East

Aired May 21, 2001 - 11:20   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to break away from the Profile in Courage Award to take you to the State Department, where Secretary of State Colin Powell is addressing reporters.


COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: ... Sharm el-Sheikh fact- finding committee for the excellent report they produced and which Senator Mitchell and Senator Rudman briefed a little bit earlier this morning.

I have written to Senator Mitchell complimenting him and giving U.S. views on that report, and copies of my letter to him will be available to you right after my briefing.

Though the task given to the committee was a very, very difficult one, the committee performed that task with professionalism, a great deal of independence and with very, very solid leadership from Senator Mitchell.

And I congratulate specifically former president of Turkey Demirel and Foreign Minister Jagland and High Representative Solana, Senator Mitchell, of course, and Senator Rudman -- a distinguished international group who came together at the request of the parties under the sponsorship of the United States to perform this very, very difficult mission.

When the Bush administration came in, Senator Mitchell came to see me to ask whether the work of the commission should continue. The Bush administration gave Senator Mitchell our strong support. Both parties continued to work with the commission. And now, their work is done.

We also welcome the spirit of cooperation that guided both sides in their dealings and in their work with the committee. Both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority have now expressed their support for the committee's report.

As the government of Israel noted in its response, quote, "The committee's report provides a constructive and positive attempt to break the cycle of violence and facilitate a resumption of bilateral negotiations for peace." The Palestinian Authority stated that, quote, "The findings and recommendations of the report offer Palestinians and Israelis and sensible and coherent foundation for resolving the current crisis and preparing a path to resuming meaningful negotiations," unquote.

So both sides commissioned this report, have accepted this report, and it's now time for both sides, with the help of the international community and the United States, to move forward on the basis of this report.

The United States believes the committee has provided the parties with ideas that can help to find a solution to the terrible tragedy that has trapped the Israeli and Palestinian peoples in a continuing downward spiral of violence for the past eight months, a spiral that has gotten worse in the last few days.

We believe that both sides should give every consideration, the most serious consideration to the committee's recommendations. And it is in that spirit that we endorse the report.

The United States calls on both sides to address the committee's primary recommendations by reaffirming their commitment to existing agreements and undertakings, immediately implementing an unconditional cessation of violence and resume security cooperation. In this context, we note the report's reference to the need for the Palestinians to make an all-out effort to enforce a complete cessation of violence.

The parties should also give prompt consideration to adopting the confidence-building measures recommended by the committee as a means of effecting a rapid transition to the resumption of negotiations. Both sides, both sides must avoid unilateral acts that prejudice the outcome of permanent status negotiations and that could be perceived by the other side as provocative during this very delicate time.

In this connection, we note the report's observations on the negative impact of continued settlement activity on the prospects for peace. We believe that this issue is an essential confidence-building measure that must be addressed by the parties.

As you know, Senator Mitchell and the other committee members put the settlement issue in the context of confidence-building measures. It is not linked in any way to his earlier call for an immediate secession of hostilities. The settlement issue has to be dealt with at the end of the day, however, as part of the confidence- building measures between the two sides, and there are two strongly held difference points of view on settlement issues between the two sides at the moment.

Carrying out these and other measures proposed by the committee to restore trust and confidence will not be an easy task. The United States is prepared to work closely with the parties to develop a framework and time line to implement the report's recommendations, including the return to negotiations. At the end of the day, negotiations must start again. But negotiations cannot start in this current situation of intense violence and a total lack of confidence and trust between the two parties. Nevertheless, we want to make to sure that negotiations are an essential part of this undertaking.

We note that the Egyptian-Jordanian nonpaper proposal that has been well reported on contains ideas that are complementary to the recommendations in the Mitchell Committee report, and we will also discuss with the parties which of these elements in the Egyptian- Jordanian nonpaper might be included in the implementation plan that Senator Mitchell made some reference to.

You will note that in his statement he talked about the necessity once we get the violence under control, down unconditionally, then we need a timeline and a sequence to implement the confidence-building measures and get on a path that takes us to negotiations.

In order for the United States to play a constructive role in the creation of this timeline and the sequencing and to help the parties start down the road toward implementation of the recommendations of the report, I am instructing Ambassador Martin Indyk and Consul General Ron Schlicher to begin working immediately with the parties to facilitate implementation of the report's recommendations.

Concurrently, I have instructed Ambassador to Jordan and Assistant Secretary-designate for Near Eastern affairs, William Burns, who is currently on his way back to Amman or in Amman, to join these efforts and make himself available to the parties.

Ambassador Burns will be serving as a special assistant to me for this purpose, and I hope the Congress will be able -- the Senate will be able to confirm his appointment as assistant secretary in the near future. But until that happens, he remains ambassador to Jordan with the added assignment reporting to me and to the president on what we can do to help bring these recommendations into effect and then set out the timeline for implementation of the confidence-building measures leading to the resumption of negotiations.

Following these initial discussions with Ambassador Burns and Ambassador Indyk and Consul General Schlicher, I have asked them, through Ambassador Burns, to report directly to the president and me on the prospects for ending the violence immediately and resuming negotiations as well as how to put in place a timeline and sequence for implementation of the confidence-building measures.

Once we have had the opportunity to review the situation when Ambassador Burns is completed with this initial round of discussions, I will determine what more I might do in a personal way to promote the process and to help with the reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians and to keep this process moving forward.

The United States will remain engaged. I will remain engaged. The president will remain engaged. It is clear, now more than ever, there can be no military solution -- no military solution -- to this conflict and that negotiation provides the only path to a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.

Let me close now by encouraging the international community to join the United States in calling on the leaders to bring about in the very, very first instance, an unconditional cessation of violence. I have been in touch with Kofi Annan, the secretary general of the United Nations, and I have been in touch with the leadership of the European Union, and I expect they will be making supportive statements in the course of the day.

The burden, I think, is now then on the leaders of the region, and principally on Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Sharon, to give these recommendations and to give this report their most earnest consideration as soon as possible because we cannot keep going in this direction.

We all understand that lives are being lost, and this is not the time to sit and point fingers. This is the time to use this report in the spirit in which it was written, to look forward, not look backward, to look forward to how to get out of this situation and how to break this cycle and to move to a position where, as Senator Mitchell said, we can deal and meet with legitimate aspirations of both the Palestinians and the Israeli people as they try to share this land together.

POWELL: Thank you very much.

And I'd be delighted to take your questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary?


QUESTION: Not that I'm saying it's correct, but much has been written and said that the administration took a sort of a detached view at the beginning and is now moving in, and that you and your spokesman said from the outset that you've been trying to end the violence. That's an unquestionably true.

But the tone has changed now. You're talking about getting involved in the diplomacy if the violence goes down. Is there a change, would you say, albeit caused by the violence? And also, has the violence succeeded in bringing the United States right back into negotiations with the aim of promoting land for peace accords?

POWELL: I think we have been involved from the very, very beginning. In my first trip to the region and President Bush's phone call, we have always indicated that what we needed was an end to the violence and then we needed economic activity to begin once again, and then we needed to return to negotiations.

Regrettably, we did not see the end of that violence. And instead, the violence became worse. It became more intense. More lives were being lost.

We gave new energy to the work of the Mitchell committee. And that committee has now given us a new opportunity to focus all of our efforts and focus all of the efforts of the international community on this report with its very clear recommendations.

POWELL: So I don't think that our policy has changed. It remains in the same sequence. The United States is not putting forward a peace plan today. The United State is not convening a meeting for the purpose of going over various final status issues. What we are doing today is very simple and very direct. It's the same thing that Senator Mitchell did earlier -- calling once again and this time, we hope, with the support of this distinguished group of envoys who took six months to work on this report and have looked at both sides of this issue, and with the support of the entire international community, to call for an unconditional end to the violence. Simple, clear, declarative recommendation. We're not requiring any additional, frankly, negotiation if we're serious.

It is now up to the leaders in the region to show that they have heard this clarion call from this committee in a loud and clear way and take actions that are available to them on both sides to, let's have a secession of hostilities, then we can begin the confidence- building measures and move toward negotiations.

It's become clear, it's been clear for months now, that unless the violence goes down, there are no prospects in negotiations. It's as simple as that. You can't wish that away.

Yes, ma'am?

QUESTION: Yes, Mr. Secretary, you said that the settlement issue has to be deal with. As you know, the Israeli government is resisting a settlement freeze. What more muscle can the United States put behind these recommendations in order to get that settlement freeze? Are we going to be returning to something like the first Bush administration. There was quite a confrontation with the Likud government over this issue.

POWELL: Well, as Senator Mitchell clearly points out in this report, every administration for the last 20-odd years has raised settlements as a problem.

When Ambassador Burns goes in, he will engage both sides on the settlement issue, and I expect he will, once again, point out to the Israeli side the difficulties associated with their settlement activity and how it is going to be a key feature or the key element that has to be dealt with in laying out the confidence-building measures.

Unless there is some progress on that one, then it is going to be very, very difficult to see how we get into a cooling-off period and a process that leads to negotiations.

It is not linked, however, to ending the violence. We should end the violence, and none of the confidence-building measures or all the confidence-building measures together are not linked to ending the violence. It's a very clear sequence in my mind.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, can you tell us what attitude the United States will take if violence ends, negotiations resume and then settlement activity begins? POWELL: I can't answer that question since it's quite hypothetical. I wish all of those hypotheticals come true and I was faced with that problem at that time. But we're quite some distance from seeing that, so I really do have to say we would have to see it in the context of the final status agreements that were made at the end of the negotiating process.

QUESTION: A couple of things. First of all, you have repeatedly called on both sides to cease violence. So has the European Union. So has the United Nations. What gives you any hope that there is going to be any change by either side because of a commission has come out?

And secondly, when you talk about that you might personally play a role, what are the parameters? Are you talking about getting involved in shuttle diplomacy, direct mediation? Can you give us an idea of what that role might entail?

POWELL: Well, I hope the parties will see this report in the context that they helped launch it. It is their report. They have commented on it and found it to be an acceptable report. And they should take action on that which they helped commission and which they have found acceptable.

Secondly, I hope both sides will be rather sobered by the events of the last several days, where we have seen serious incidents -- each incident giving rise to something come back from the other side. And I hope both sides will now realize that this is unbearable and cannot continue without the whole region breaking out into an even more serious conflagration. And this is the time to start moving back down that ladder.

But at the end of the day, it is not something that the United States can impose or the European Union can impose. It is not something that a special envoy can go impose. It is something that will require the leaders, as Senator Mitchell said early this morning, to be leaders and look beyond the passions of the moment. Look in some times and some ways beyond the public opinion of their sides and now take the bold actions necessary to bring this cycle of violence to an end.

POWELL: On the second part of your question, I don't want to set out what my role or the role of any other Bush administration official might be, but shuttle diplomacy is not what we need right now.

We have had this group of very distinguished leaders from around the world who have essentially gone out and looked at this already. And so, they have come back with a clear report, and I will play whatever role is most useful in moving this process of confidence- building along until we get to the point of negotiations, and then we'll see what form those negotiations take and what role I might play or others in the administration might play.


QUESTION: You talk about settlements and that there has to be some progress. What do you consider progress? Should there be a freeze on settlements, natural growth? Can you define that?

POWELL: Senator Mitchell quite clearly said in his report that there should be a freeze on settlements to include natural growth within existing settlements. This will be a very difficult issue for the Israeli side, and they've already said so.

I think as we go into the timing and sequence of confidence- building measures, which this is the principal one, everybody knows what the United States has said about this. What I want to see is what possibilities exist to bridge the very, very sharp differences and disagreements that exist between the two sides with respect to expansion within existing settlements.

New settlements, we have clearly said -- and the Israelis have said, they are not creating any new settlements.

But this is a contentious one, and I want to be in the position to see if my team and I can find ways to bridge the very, very serious differences that now exist.

PHILLIPS: Secretary of State Colin Powell responding to the Mitchell report, a report recently brought about by the former senator and a number of other individuals put together on the U.S. Peace Commission. Our David Ensor standing by at the State Department.

David, Powell didn't hesitate, gave major kudos to the commission and former senator and wants to implement this plan for peace in the Middle East right away.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And for the first time since January 20th, when the administration took office, it is getting some what more engaged diplomatically in the problem. Secretary Powell appointing the Ambassador Jordan William Burns as his special assistant in this matter.

He is to go over and work with the ambassador to Israel and the consul general to the Palestinians and try to come up with some recommendations to Secretary Powell and the president as to how the administration can best get the parties to follow the point-by-point timeline, as Mr. Powell called it, that is recommended by the Mitchell report.

And, of course, you heard him multiple times in this discussion, and in the questions afterwards, calling for an immediate, unconditional cessation of hostilities. That word unconditional means that there is no justification for the Palestinians or Israelis arguing that there are certain things they have to do, there are certain house they have to knock out, there are certain bombs to go off. No excuses, says Powell. There has to be an immediate, unconditional cessation of hostilities.

Now, he sees a kind of a timeline. If that can be achieved, at least for some period of time, the next thing is to have confidence- building measures, which would include some of the things the Mitchell report recommends such as a resumption of the kind of security cooperation between the Israeli and Palestinian security forces. That has been largely broken off in recent days and weeks, but was very helpful in recent years in keeping level of violence low.

Also, the question of settlements, and you heard quite a bit of discussion by the secretary about what is, of course, a very controversial issue among Israelis, who want to be able to continue to expand, at least, settlements that already exist.

So, he sees a timeline. He's also said he's not going to personally get involved yet. He doesn't see this as a time for shuttle diplomacy. I think we're probably basically being told in this discussion that he's not going to be adding the Middle East to his itinerary of the trip to Africa that he's taking starting tomorrow.

So, he is getting more engaged. He's having a special assistant go come back with recommendations, but that's it for now -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: And David, also making it clear that there is absolutely no military solution here, strictly, only peace through negotiations.

ENSOR: That's right.

PHILLIPS: David Ensor live at the State Department. Thanks so much.



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